Award-winning reporter will address COVID’s impact on public education

Legislative Gazette photos by Will Oliva

Education journalist Sarah Carr will give a public speech this Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m., in Coykendall Science Building Auditorium on the campus of SUNY New Paltz.

Carr’s talk, open to all members of the community, is titled “Why It Took So Long to Reopen Schools During COVID, and What It Means for the Future of Education.” 

The New York Times and other news organizations have reported recently on the pandemic’s devastating impact on students, with math and English test scores dropping in nearly every state.

The talk will draw on Carr’s deep understanding of American education, honed over two decades as a journalist for publications including The Washington Post, The Hechinger Report, the Atlantic, Slate, ProPublica, The New York Times, and the Boston Globe Magazine.

Carr is an award-winning journalist who spent the 2021-22 academic year as an O’Brien Fellow in Public Service Journalism.

Award-winning education reporter, Sarah Carr, is the Fall 2022 James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professor of Journalism at SUNY New Paltz.

Now, as the 2022 James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professor of Journalism at SUNY New Paltz, Carr is teaching “The Kids’ Story,” a course that scrutinizes American inequality in the education, health care and immigration systems through the lens of children and teenagers. 

Earlier in the semester, Carr and New Paltz President Daryl P. Wheeler held a public conversation and Q&A in the campus’s Science Hall Auditorium discussing her career, the journalism profession and education at large.

A highlight of their discussion was Wheeler and Carr questioning the difference between education, learning and a degree. Both Carr and Wheeler agreed there were stark and complex differences between the definitions of each term and that decidedly, learning is the key term of that trio. 

President Wheeler brought up the internal discussions educators have had about what can and cannot be taught in schools and Carr said, “It’s been hard for me personally to watch the pushback over the last year or so because there are so many people who have been working for so long to bring diverse texts or diverse teachers, and I’m not cynical enough to feel like this pushback will undermine all of that. It won’t because ultimately the truth I think will prevail. But it’s painful to watch it.”  

According to a Center for American Progress report, 17 states have introduced legislation that limits how teachers can discuss history and current events, some going so far as pulling books from school library shelves. 

The Education Writers Association announced in its 2021 State of the Education Beat Report that 83 percent of education reporters are committed to their career path and that 98 percent feel that their work has a positive impact on the community. 

“I think education is often devalued as this entry level beat and a lot of newsrooms, there’s this idea that you might start on a beat like education but aspire to be a political reporter,” Carr said. “I’ve always felt like it is the beat and that it’s actually in some ways more complicated than some other beats in terms of the variety of people you have to interact with and you have to know how to read budgets and interview people from all kinds of backgrounds and hold government officials accountable. It just kind of draws on all journalistic skills.

In Carr’s class, students are learning how to incorporate the experiences of young people, and particularly those from historically marginalized groups, in their reporting.

“I feel like schools are this microcosm of America. I guess there are some newspapers that have an inequality beat or a race beat but short of that, I don’t know a better way to cover systemic failures and shortcomings and successes than through the education beat.”

Carr’s book, “Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children,” tells the story of the post-Katrina New Orleans schools through the experiences of a student, a teacher, and a family. 

The James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship, SUNY New Paltz’s only endowed professorship, is named for the founder of Ottaway Newspapers Inc., who was a leader of the American Press Institute and a lifelong supporter of high-quality journalism in the Hudson Valley and across the globe.

The Ottaway Visiting Professorship was established in 2000 through the generosity of James H. Ottaway Jr. ’18 HON and Mary Ottaway ’70g (Elementary Education). Numerous well-known journalists have preceded Carr as Ottaway professors, including Pulitzer Prize winners, foreign correspondents, book authors, editors, investigative reporters and experts in finance, science and consumer journalism.